‘Nas ultimas duas semanas, eu tenho lido sobre Carl Jung e sua teoria do inconsciente…’
Lexi followed the line with the tip of her pen, eyes narrowed, the rest of the video caffé a Man Ray haze.
‘In the last two weeks,’ she said quietly, ‘I have…lido…seen about Carl Jung and his theory of the incon-…unconscious.’
Putting pen to lips, she revised her translation.
Was that seen or read? Logically, it had to be one of them…you wouldn’t do anything else to a theory of someone except read or see it…or trash it…would you?
‘I think that guy wants a coffee,’ said Mark, from the other end of the counter.
‘You want me to serve him?’
Lexi put the pen down and looked over at the only booth with a live, human shape. Foda. One of the art students, a regular, in a green beanie that was seemingly glued to his head.
‘I’ll do it.’
She picked up the pad [and pen again], and went over. As usual, the guy ordered a caramel latte with zero sugar and then coughed, muito artificial, before asking if she’d ever tried the VR plaza across the road.
‘Once or twice.’
‘They have Pluto 2280 now…probably gonna give it a shot later, if you wanna co-op?’
‘Is that the sci-fi game?’
‘Yeah, sequel to Pluto 2270. Muito légal, muito hype. Heard they’ve jazzed it up a bit too…more missions, more crisis events. Huge-ass servers.’
Lexi flinched at the Portuguese then glanced over at Mark, who looked, for a brief moment, like a rabbit in a fox-run pool hall, before blinking himself out and scurrying back to his phone.
Okay, so he’s still looking, she thought, turning back to the customer. Even if he’s barely said a word to me all morning.
‘Sorry, I’m not really a big sci-fi person,’ she replied, adding the same sympathetic smile she used on the elderly.
‘Yeah, me neither. Just the newness factor mostly.’ He nodded to himself and looked left, at one of the GRAPE FEST stickers Juana had stamped on the table. ‘How about this grape thing? Any interest?’
‘Only if I’m cultivating a migraine…’
He tilted his head, eyes squinting at her neck as if that had the answer.
‘I mean, I’m not good with large crowds.’
Lexi tapped the pad with her pen and said, ‘caramel latte, coming up,’ then made her way back to her side of the counter. Surprisingly, Mark was there, sitting on the stool next to hers, going over her Portuguese notes.
‘Think I can actually read some of this…’
She put the pad down and took her seat, pulling the notebook an inch closer.
‘It is Portuguese, right?’
‘I thought you were studying Japanese.’
She looked at him, at the lips she’d kissed the night before, at the eyes couched in didn’t sleep until three fatigue. ‘Good to see you’ve rebooted…’
He laughed, looking down at the counter. ‘Yeah, I’ve been a bit low-key. Sorry about that. I didn’t know if you were…if I’d fucked things up last night.’
‘By running off and leaving me alone in a torture chamber for an hour?’
‘VR torture chamber…’ he countered, but not with any real conviction.
Lexi switched to her Portuguese notes, running through the reply bubbles in her head and pricking each one. Not that he didn’t deserve a bit of fire, but…what was the point? They still had to work together.
‘If Juana says it okay…maybe we could try again tonight?’
She looked up, eyes in sync with the Red Sonja poster above the waffle display boxes.
‘The VR part…not the other stuff.’ He paused, glancing at her arm, perhaps subtly trying to nudge over to her Tenebrae t-shirt. ‘Unless you want to…’
‘That’s a big if.’
‘She’s more likely to make us watch a filmn in the back room than let us go early again. Very likely, in fact. Assuming she’s still following the trend of the last few weeks.’
He nodded, shifting back to her notes, squinting at some of the words. Probably the ones that couldn’t be guessed in English.
‘But we both have a day off tomorrow. If you really want to redeem yourself, you can take me somewhere.’
His eyes shifted, scanning the window opposite.
‘Not your hostel room.’
‘Wah…no chance, there’s seven other people in there. And the common room’s got one of those old NEO-GEOs…weirdly popular.’
‘Good. Then somewhere else.’
Lexi turned back to her notes, read through the last line one more time then closed the notebook and put it under the counter. As an instant substitute, she pulled out another notebook, loaded up one of the Slovenian vlogs she’d found and put in the earphones.
‘Is that Croatian?’ Mark asked, peering over.
‘You’re studying that too?’
‘Japanese, Portuguese, Slovene, Cantonese, Romanian and Urdu. Three on alternate days.’
‘Making up for wasted time.’
‘Yeah. In a big way.’
‘You better get started on that caramel latte,’ she said, gesturing at the green beanie guy in the booth, who was glaring back at them, jagged fingernail scraping off the GRAPE FEST sticker on the table.
Lexi was right about Juana.
Coming in alone around half nine, she told them with a flicker of yellow in one eye that, as it was a day off the next day, they should all go to the back room and watch Re-animator.
Mark seemed to be aware of the name, while Lexi muttered, ‘foda, again,’ under her breath, quickly followed by, ‘good choice,’ when Juana glared at her.
Doesn’t matter really, she told herself, as they all took their places on the sofa, three glasses of purple shit allegedly honoring GRAPE FEST in their hands. It’s a short movie, and as long as she doesn’t have any of the sequels lined up for afterwards…
‘By the way,’ Juana said, pausing the filmn two minutes in and turning left, lips stopping dangerously close to Mark’s cheek. ‘There’s a sofa bed in the other back room, you can sleep there starting from tomorrow night.’
‘It’s not healthy to stay in a hostel too long. Not to mention being a drain on your finances.’
‘I’ll think about it,’ he said, sipping on the purple wine.
Juana pressed play and lasted thirty-three seconds before pausing again. ‘In case I wasn’t clear, I’m offering it to you for free. You should accept.’
Mark glanced left at Lexi, who gave a distorted nod from behind her wine glass.
‘It’s agreed then,’ Juana continued, pushing a bunch of jumbled hair out from the side of her neck, ‘you can move your stuff tomorrow, after whatever you have planned during the day.’
‘Okay, err…thanks. Again.’
She patted him on the head, twice, then moved down to the shoulder and kept her hand there for at least a minute as the filmn resumed playing.
Spotting the move, Lexi shifted towards the middle of the couch, leaning her head into Mark’s other shoulder.
Get your fucking paw off my Japanese lifeboat raced a few times round her head but was diluted by the weird basement experiment taking place on the projector screen…which stopped abruptly, again, just as the syringe with green shit was about to go in.
‘I almost forgot,’ said Juana, removing her hand and retreating to the far side of the couch. ‘Sadia sent me an e-mail today.’
‘She did?’ asked Mark, sitting up and inadvertently dislodging Lexi from his shoulder.
‘Quite a sweet one. Said she’s doing well in Portland.’
‘That’s where she is?’
‘Does her family know?’ asked Lexi, peeking out from the other side of Mark’s face.
‘I suppose they do.’
‘And the police?’
Juana held up the remote and pressed play. ‘Questions, questions…that I cannot answer. Let’s focus on the filmn, shall we?’
The next morning, Lexi woke up with a slight migraine.
Probably the purple wine, she told herself, as she checked her phone and saw a message that instantly made her migraine worse.
‘Guy at the hostel said best farm for GRAPE FEST is Livid Crop. Free samples long as you can stand. What do you think?’
Her first reaction was Fuck off.
Her second was sorry, I have no interest in exploring the sights and smells of a city I’ve lived in my whole life.
Third was no way, too crowded.
Fourth was what if my exes are there?
And the one she finally went with: okay, what time?
With one Panadol already taken, and eight more in her bag, Lexi headed out in her flat-mate’s car, phone playing a Romanian travel vlog that she could barely understand, the streets outside dotted with Fresnoans in purple t-shirts and one poor fucker decked out in a full grape costume.
As it wasn’t a work day, she’d opted for the KUNG FOOD FIGHTING t-shirt she’d picked up in LA, the one good thing left from that whole six month debacle. In which she’d spent the majority of her time inside her shitty flat, hiding from all the-…
No…that way lay bad psychology. Id regression.
Focus on GRAPE FEST. And the crowds…of people you don’t want to see.
Okay, focus on the free wine.
Let them be the anchors.
According to the leaflet given to them by Livid Crop staff, and the e-version that popped up on their phone 0.000023 seconds after they’d bought their tickets at the front gate, all the wine stalls were free as long as one of your group was a tourist.
Thanks to Mark’s alien status, that meant them but, after trying a glass from the first four stalls next to the entrance, Lexi almost wished it didn’t.
‘Let’s check out the tapas,’ she said, feeling her head sway a little.
‘I took a Panadol earlier. Could be a bad mix.’
‘Just tapas then.’
Wandering past Spanish signs and Mexican faces and a drunken slur from a pink-faced local, Lexi told Mark she’d feel better soon and would hopefully be okay to start back up on the wine in an hour or so.
‘That’s odd,’ he said, looking past her.
She turned, not bothering with the performance of confusion at what exactly was odd, and read the poster on the front of the Galician ham stall that said: MISSING: Sadia Melville.
‘I thought Juana said she was in Portland,’ continued Mark, looking around the nearby stalls as if the Mexican VHS obsessive was lurking there somewhere.
‘They probably put them up days ago, then forgot to take them down.’
‘I don’t know. That’s what aligns with Juana’s version.’
Lexi picked up a cocktail stick with a surprisingly generous slice of ham stuck on the end and looked left. And buffered.
Fuck, that guy…he still came?
Even after her soft rejection?
Smiling awkwardly, she held up the stick as the green beanie guy stared back at her, another girl clinging to his arm. A girl who, if she squinted, could probably pass as her own stunt double; same dark skin tone, similar hair style…
‘It does seem like no one’s paying attention to them.’
‘What?’ asked Lexi, turning back and realizing straight away that Mark was still talking about the Sadia poster. ‘Yeah, I guess everyone knows now. Or anyone who knew her.’
‘Is that a lot of people?’
‘Err…Fresno has a population of about a million so…probably not.’
‘It’s deceptive, I know. But compared to LA, it’s tiny. Like a LEGO set.’ She looked back to see if the green beanie guy was still there but, perhaps due to internal prayers to the Satanic lords, he was gone, and in his place was a narrow lane that led down to the grape strips. ‘You wanna go see the AH-Bots?’
‘Just down there, between the stalls. They pick most of the grapes.’
‘Don’t know. Is it exciting to watch?’
‘AH-Bots picking grapes?’
‘Actually, if you watch long enough, it’s kind of hypnotic. Like, the consistent picking technique, without break or difference, just…endless picking.’
Mark turned and looked at the Sadia poster, patched in for ten, fifteen seconds…until Lexi threaded her fingers through his own and started dragging the physical part of him down towards the strips.
‘Trust me, you’ll like it,’ she added, feeling the sweat on his palm.
The day after GRAPE FEST ran coma-slow.
As did most of the evening.
Two people, one video caffé, no customers, no boss.
Pure Bōl entropy.
‘This time, this time…’
Coddling yet another migraine, Lexi leaned in closer to the table and, as cautiously as she could, peeled the part of the GRAPE FEST sticker she had gripped in her hand.
It got about a third of the way off before it ripped.
‘Fodaaaaaaaaaa,’ she said, flicking the torn piece onto the floor.
‘You want a hand?’ asked Mark, appearing with three complete stickers already peeled.
‘This one’s mine.’
‘No assistance needed.’
‘Unless I’m still saying fuck in an hour…then I’ll let you take over.’
‘Initiating standby mode.’
He did a fake salute – which was a bit cringe, maybe a North British thing – then walked off to the next booth, while she went back to the remains of her own sticker.
Not a bad last line from me, Lexi thought, self-appraising. Better than what I used to say to Jammer when he tried to take over my tasks.
Maybe it’s the way Mark said okay before it?
She glanced over, watching the back of his arm as he peeled off another sticker.
Or maybe it’s cos I’m not as stubborn as other people think I am.
Yeah, that sounds more uplifting, I’ll go with that.
Re-positioning her nail next to the F on the sticker, she resumed scraping.
Uplifting in Japanese…what was it again?
What about Portuguese?
The door opened and Juana walked in, clapping in short bursts when she saw them dealing with the stickers.
‘You can take over if you like,’ said Lexi, turning and giving raised eyebrows to Mark, who was still too busy peeling to notice.
‘Actually, comrades, I’m here to rescue you…with an impromptu filmn presentation in the back room…’
Not Robocop 2, not Robocop 2, not Robocop 2…
‘…so if you wanna flip over that closed sign and follow me.’
‘Which filmn?’ asked Lexi, giving up on the sticker.
‘A new one…that I’ve never shown you before.’
‘Longer than two hours?’
Juana went back to the door and did the closed sign herself, then turned and walked with a Green Hell Cat grin through and around the videos shelves.
‘That means yes,’ Lexi muttered to herself, following after the boss.
When the STAFF ONLY door was open, and both Lexi and Juana were next to it, Mark finally looked up from his sticker struggle and said, somewhat gormlessly, ‘what?’
‘Tourists…’ muttered Juana, not so under her breath.
As with the previous night, the trio sat on the three person sofa, drinking glasses of what Juana told them was wine gifted to her by the owner of Livid Crop.
‘Leftovers?’ asked Lexi, swirling the blood simulacrum in her cup.
‘Eighteen bottles of it,’ replied Juana, holding up the one already open in her hand
‘Jesus…she must really like you.’
Juana smiled but without added words. Instead, she turned the volume up on the filmn – which Lexi recognized from the first shot as Heathers – and told them to drink up, there’s plenty more in the box.
‘Has a funny taste…’ whispered Mark to Lexi’s neck.
‘Yeah, could be.’
‘Probably the ones they couldn’t sell.’
‘Quiet, you’re missing the filmn,’ said Juana, leaning across.
Lexi mumbled, ‘sorry’, but was overwhelmed by Mark’s countertenor. For a few milliseconds she felt annoyed, she was the veteran, he shouldn’t be more assertive than her, but then it passed and she settled down on the left hand arm of the sofa, ready to let the filmn take her.
And it did.
All three of them; the first ten minutes, they didn’t exchange one word.
Until Christian Slater shot the two bullies with blanks in the school caffeteria, at which point Juana abruptly stood up and said she had to go somewhere.
‘Huh?’ slurred Lexi, half in a daze.
‘To see a friend of mine, I just remembered. It’s okay, the two of you can stay…watch the filmn, relax. Just remember to lock up when you’re done.’
‘You’re really going?’
‘Drink more wine too. There’s another bottle in the box, down my side of the couch.’
‘Err…okay,’ said Lexi, looking at the almost full glass still in her hand. ‘But a whole bottle might be a bit-…’
She stopped, seeing that Juana was already gone, her footsteps trailing in decreasing chords down the corridor outside.
‘Just the two of us then…’ said Mark, finishing the rest of his wine and leaning over to Juana’s side of the sofa.
‘You want a top up, too?’
‘Sure,’ she said, quickly downing the rest of her glass.
On screen, the filmn played on.
The first Heather dispatched with drain cleaner; eulogized as a misunderstood hero at her funeral; the next Heather taking up the mantle as queen bitch; and then a cow tipping scene in a field that didn’t look all that different from the one they’d seen at GRAPE FEST the previous day. In fact, there was a chance it might be, Fresno wasn’t that far from Hollywood and they did use to shoot a lot of films nearby in the 80’s. Only real difference now was the technology, the workers.
‘Needs more AH-Bots,’ said Lexi, her head on Mark’s shoulder, hand on his thigh.
‘And less cows.’
‘There’s only three.’
‘No, wait…in the background, over there…four.’
‘They don’t do anything.’
‘Or is that a horse?’
The scene moved on, Winona Ryder fleeing from the frat pervert while the other Heather mimicked sex in the background, fully clothed.
‘Looks uncomfortable,’ said Lexi, drinking the last of her wine and putting the glass down on the floor. ‘Outside…in a field…’
‘I think they’re drunk.’
‘…with the cows watching.’
‘Inside is better…cozier…’
‘…on a couch in the back room of a video caffé.’
Mark slurred a long ‘yeah’ then stared at the screen for about a minute before finally turning and looking at her.
‘You think…’ he started then answered his own question by shooting towards her lips, letting her kiss back, grab the back of his head, mutter foda in pure husk before moving elsewhere.
Like the torture chamber scenario, it was pure chaos; his hands pulling up her Tenebrae t-shirt, grabbing at her tits, slowing down, stroking around the nipple with his thumb, while she slid a hand down onto his dick, pushed it into his thigh, fumbled with the top of his jeans, yelled at him to stop flicking her nipple.
In the background, the two bullies became prey in the woods, the second gunshot prompting Mark to stop with his fingers and ask Lexi if she wanted to move things to his room.
‘You mean next door?’
‘It’s got a bed.’
‘Too far,’ she replied, getting his jeans free, rubbing her hand up and down the underside of his dick then pushing off the couch and almost toppling upside-down-over as she took her knickers off.
‘Condom?’ Mark asked, pulling her back in, helping her down onto his thighs.
‘I mean, do you have one?’
‘No. Fuck. Foda.’
‘Too cramped. Move your legs over.’
‘Wah, back a bit, you’re-…’
‘Yeah. Sim. Muito.’
Taking Mark’s dick in one hand, and rubbing herself with the other, Lexi shuffled about until the tip was propped inside then slid down slowly on top of him.
‘Fuck…’ was all Mark could say, and pretty much all Lexi had too, though she wasn’t out of it enough to forget the foda addition.
Or how beautifully Japanese his face was.
How confused it still looked.
Foda fucking god…
She leaned in close and kissed him as the two bullies became homosexual martyrs on the screen behind, swaying back and forth with more pace, telling him to go faster even though she was doing most of the work, not telling him the dirtier shit that might scare him off, hoping that he wasn’t one of the 98% who came within two minutes.
‘Wait, wait…’ he said, clamping both hands on her hips, ‘too fast, gonna cum.’
‘Gotta think of something, distraction…’
He leaned back and looked left at the Videodrome poster on the wall, his hands moving up onto Lexi’s breasts.
‘Does that help?’ she asked, looking down.
He stopped, closing his eyes.
She waited for him to finish his meditation, feeling his dick shaking inside her as he mumbled something about AH-Bots on the grape farm.
The spell faltered, prompting her to look at the doorway and picture Juana secretly spying on them from around the corner. Then a tangent to Mark himself…the potential awkwardness of the next day at work…the idea that she only liked him cos he looked Japanese and wasn’t from Fresno…the thought of fucking after a year together and how bored they’d both be, even if it was in a field, with four, do-nothing cows watching.
‘Back…’ he said, moving her hips with his hands.
‘Ten seconds bursts…maybe twenty…’
‘You want to go-…’
The word slower got lost in the waves as he moved faster, both of them reduced to random shouts of ‘fuck’ and ‘keep going’, and finally Lexi shifting right next to his ear, telling him to cum inside her, it was okay, she had the meds [or she thought she did – it’d been a while since she’d last checked].
‘It’s okay?’ he asked, panting, pulling her in atom-to-atom.
She didn’t answer, just rode faster, the sound of Christian Slater’s suicide monologue accompanying her as she came a few seconds after him.
As with most men she’d been with, he said, ‘sorry,’ as soon as he got his breath back, followed by little kisses on the shoulder, but unlike most men he didn’t blame the alcohol or say it was because he liked her so much.
He just repeated, ‘felt too good,’ a few times.
‘Yeah, me too,’ she said back, resting her forehead against his and keeping it there…until the little voice in her head said retreat, retreat and she pulled away.
‘Can’t believe we did it…in here…’ he said, pecking her shoulder again.
Lifting herself off his lap, she looked around the room for tissues, saying fuck when she realized there weren’t any, and then fuck again when Christian Slater exploded on screen.
‘Did he just blow up?’ asked Mark, trying to stop loose cum dribbling onto the couch.
‘Yeah,’ she answered, spotting her wine glass, toppled over on the floor.
‘It’s the end of the filmn.’
‘Just like that.’
‘He had to die.’